I know this didn’t happen just this year, but the other day, I found out that Dykes on Bikes, the traditional leaders of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade changed to The Women’s Motorcycle Contingent. I wonder how much more the queer movement is going to allow itself to be co-opted into capitalist America and its family values. We come out on Gay Pride Day to express our collective identity. The Parade, which used to be a March, is inherently political. The last that any of us needs are the euphemisms to make our queer selves respectable and acceptable to the status quo. Well, we aren’t part of it — and we don’t want be. Dykes and Queens promote a healthy dis-ease in mainstream society.
The Pride Marches began in the early 1970s to commemorate the June1969 Stonewall Rebellion, which marked the beginning of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement. It was then that black and Puerto Rican drag queens, dykes, queer street kids and transvestites rioted for three days and nights against police harrassment and brutality in New York City. Rather than celebrating these radical roots, our march has become a for-profit venture by “producers” who push to market our event to the public and de-politicise and erase the reality of queer oppression, which is as strong as ever.
Who profits from revising history? Today postmodern feminists and petite bourgeois academics are saying that Audre Lorde was a cultural feminist.
You remember — that kind of feminism which used to be linked up with radical feminism where patriarchy or men are the enemy and the solution to women’s oppression is overturning patriarchal culture and building a woman-identified women’s culture. Anyone who has read Audre Lorde knows that her politics aimed to create much more than women’s culture. She was not separatist, but inclusive and radical. I called Audre just before her Boston “I Am Your Sister” conference in the fall of 1991. I wanted to submit a proposal for radical workshops, but wanted to make sure to truly represent her. “Are you a socialist?” And she said with a sly laugh, “ That’s what I’ve always said, and I don’t fool with terms like those.”
I’m thinking now, what will they do to Pat Parker? She was without doubt a revolutionary feminist. Will postmodern feminists and liberals turn her into a single-issue lesbian separatist because she was so pro-woman and pro-lesbian? Will they censor out her blackness, which includes women, men, and children? Or her working class attitudes? Will they whitewash her redness, her radicalism? Liberals want to single-issue these dykes up. Because capitalism isn’t threatened by single-issue reformist leaders. Audre Lorde is made palatable by revising her history and making her into a cultural feminist. She and Pat Parker become dangerous when we read their works and we see their multi-faceted, multi-issue vision. Because of who they are, they address race, sex, sexuality, and class oppression. And the logic of multi-issueism leads inexorably to anti-capitalism. All the poison is coming from the same bottle.
Who would have the clearest vision of our common enemy? Why those who happened to embody all those oppressions at once and then embrace them. Parker was a working-class lesbian of color, a blatant black dyke. There was not one aspect of her life where she was slightly privileged with the possibility of being bought off. She wasn’t born rich, or white, or male, or heterosexual. No way was she going to pass as any of the above either. She wore her differences with pride and became a role model. Not many of us come to feeling pride in the ways we are oppressed or ridiculed. She and Audre showed how we could stop being victims and become protagonists/leaders in the movements for liberation. We, too, could stand up and be a fist in the face of ugly conformity to traditional values.
Because Pat Parker was a black dyke revolutionary activist — activist is the determining characteristic here — she had that extra fire, that dangerous edge to her poetry. You could hear it in her words, see it in her strong face. Being blatant. Asking the questions others are afraid to ask because if they ask, they question, and that’s the threshold to radicalism. What really happened at Jonestown, on November 18, 1978? Where 900 people, mostly black, died under the influence of a white preacher, Jim Jones? Black people do not commit suicide. They were murdered by 400 years of racism, poverty, oppression, brutality.
Her vision at the bottom was the most clear and uncompromising. Her poetry was deliberately raw, succinct, passionate (for revolution is intense compassion) and inspiringly relevant because she remained an activist. She refused to be co-opted, refused to give the nod to respectability and acceptability to become bourgeois. She was the director of the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center. She and her soul brother, Blackberri, tried to book a tour together but separatists and homophobes prevented its success.
Pat belonged to this underground black women’s organisation called the “Eleventh Hour Battalion.” I loved that! The world is in ruins, rotten with decaying capitalism; we are at the very brink. Seize the hour!
Both Audre Lorde and Pat Parker wrote of the pervasive violence in their lives as blacks, as women, as dykes. Parker wrote of the urgent necessity for radical change. In “Revolution: It’s Not Neat or Pretty or Quick,” she says:
Yet to support national liberation struggles alone is not enough. We must actively fight within the confines of this country to bring it down…I am a revolutionary feminist because I want me to be free. And it is critically important that…your commitment to revolution is based on the fact that you want revolution for yourself…In order for revolution to be possible, it must be fed by the poor and working class people of this country.
Not blacks alone, nor Latinos/as nor Native Americans, Asians, women, queers — but together.
Parker’s work explores in ever new ways the meaning of being proudly different:
…she has been known/…/to speak in a loud voice,/ to pick her nose,/ stumble on a sidewalk,/ scream obscenities at men,/ tote garbage/ play basket ball/…my lady is definitely no lady/ which is fine with me/ ’cause I ain’t no gentleman.
To Parker, selling out your own, is an act of perversion. And selling out your own to Amerikkka won’t save you:
They will not come/ a mob rolling/ through the streets, but quickly and quietly/ move into our homes/ and remove the evil,/ the queerness,/ the faggotry, the perverseness/ from their midst. They will not come/ clothed in brown,/ and swastikas, or/ bearing chest heavy/ with/ gleaming crosses./ The time and need/ for ruses are over./ They will come in business suits…/ to your front rooms/ and to your closets./ They will come for the perverts./ And where will you be when they come.
Change March to Parade, Dykes on Bikes to The Women’s Motorcycle Contingent. Audre Lorde from socialist and feminist to Cultural feminist. A familiar ploy of the powers that be? Change Bombing of Yugoslavia to Building a New World Order.
Do we still feel that tingle of the slightest embarrassment when we’re in the same room with a blatantly transgendered or homosexual individual? Where no euphemism will hide the truth of that person? If we do, this simply means that we are still bound to patriarchal capitalist values. Tied to the need to keep the monogamous nuclear family safe, male dominance and heterosexuality safe. Dykes say don’t confuse me with any moral majority straight woman. I don’t want that privilege or those chains, thank you. Read Parker’s For Straight Folks/ Who don’t mind Gays/ But wish They weren’t so BLATANT — get a laugh and a revelation.
Pat Parker was exploring something very new in the early 1970s. And since we haven’t had the revolution yet, I bet she has something for young queer and questioning youth today. We’re still being rejected by parents (“Lord, what kind of child is this?”), treated like freaks. We don’t have money or work with fair pay and healthy working conditions. We want to build different relationships than our parents had, new concepts of family because we know in our hearts that that has to happen for us to survive. But we are scared. Can we be truly equals in a partnership? Raise children to be non-competitive? Create a caring community…world?
Maybe non-monogamy is a symbol of real freedom and independence, but as Pat Parker says, it sure is a pain in the butt when you’re in love.
In 1977 I invited Pat to come talk to my class on Third World Women Writers. She was a key voice for feminism, and I knew it. Her poems stunned the young students. Her love poems were not all gushy and feminine mystiquey:
Let me come to you naked/ come without masks/ come dark/ and lay beside you./ Let me come to you old/ come as a dying snail/ come weak/ and lay beside you…even more/ Let me come to you strong/come sure and free/ come powerful/ and lay with you.
Ten years ago, on June 17, 1989, Pat Parker died of breast cancer. I was lucky. I’m a breast cancer survivor since 1990, and I’m still living and have found with other working class people of color, Jews, women, queers, a means to revolution to consciously create international socialism, matriarchal collectivity and sexualities as diverse as the colors of humanity.